Allies and Espionage: Brazil and the Obama Administration (Updated)


2013-09-05 By Kenneth Maxwell

What on earth led the US to think that it was appropriate to snoop on the internal e-mails and computer messages and communications of allies like the President of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, and the President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff?

The most recent revelations via Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald are mindboggling. The damage to US relations with Mexico and Brazil far outweigh any potential advantages gained.

It is not so much a question of “gentlemen not opening each other’s mail” as US Secretary of State, Henry L. Stimson, said when closing down the State Department’s cryptanalysis office in 1929.

The President of Brazil is reconsidering her visit to the United States. Having her correspondence enter the US intelligence data base and made widely available in the intelligence system seems to have bothered her. What impact on allies is in play as a result? Credit Image: Bigstock

It is the sheer stupidity of the scale of the snooping, and the damage it can cause when revealed, which it inevitably will be.

Why did a low level military intelligence operative in Iraq, Bradley Manning, need to have access to the full range of US intelligence intercepts and videos in the first place?

Why did Edward Snowden, an intelligence contractor, working for a private company, need to know what Dilma Rousseff was saying to Professor Marco Aurelio Garcia, her foreign policy adviser, in the Planalto Palace, or who Pena Neto was planning to appoint to be a minister in his new government in Mexico?

It is true that the US has snooped for years on Brazilian political figures.

And of course it is easier to snoop when you have the ability to snoop.

But it is surely the job of American diplomats in Brazil to find out these things the old fashioned and legal way. 

It is the sheer scale of the snooping of the United States intelligence agencies “state within the state” that is out of control:

Where no limits are recognized; No common sense applied: No awareness of consequences

And why are low level “leakers” who “blow the whistle” persecuted, while no questions are raised about those who created the bloated system in the first place?

The justification for all this is the threat of terrorism.

But is Dilma Rousseff a terrorist?  Was Lula? Is Pena Nieto? 

There are big issues at stake on the US-Brazil agenda: A large military deal for the US. Brazil’s desire for US support for its aspiration for a permanent seat of the UN security council.

Neither seems likely now. 

Stupidity has its consequences.

If President Rousseff wants to send a message she may well cancel her State visit to Washington.

But if she goes ahead with it, she should put U.S. spying at the very top of her public agenda with President Obama.

Editor’s Note: If the US take its intelligence case to the UN with regard to Syria, will the issues of US spying on allies enter into the deliberations as well? It is being reported in the Brazilian press that the President of Brazil is delaying sending her team to Washington to prepare for the planned visit.


According to the “Estado de Sao Paulo” newspaper (05/09/2013)

President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil has cancelled the planned advanced visit of her security, diplomatic, and presidential ceremonial staff, which was due to leave for Washington on Saturday in advance of her State Visit to the US scheduled for October. 

The Dilma administration is upset over the spying allegation. It is not satisfied with the response to the visit of the Brazilian Minister of Justice, Jose Eduardo Cardoso, to Washington, which aides cited by “Estado de Sao Paulo” called “frustrating” and a “deception” and which provided no satisfactory response. 

A decision about the State Visit itself has apparently not yet been taken, but Brazil expects a “written response” from the Obama administration on the US spying allegations.

Additional Update:

The question of allies and espionage is one receiving attention and could well play out in the Syrian crisis, notably if the verification of chemical weapons becomes part of any agreement with Syria to “dismantle” chemical weapons.  Will such a “verification regime” validate, modify, or repudiate US analyses of the situation involving chemical weapons in Syria?

European MPs have suggested that agreements between the EU and the US to provide data to support joint counter-terrorism initiatives be suspended.

Press reports that the US intelligence agency secretly tapped into international bank transfer firm Swift have prompted MEPs to call for an immediate suspension of the EU-US terrorist financial tracking programme (TFTP) agreement.

“We cannot continue loyal co-operation in data exchange with US Authorities with this NSA dark cloud hanging over our heads,” said Belgian Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt in an emailed statement on Monday (9 September).

Verhofstadt, along with Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in t’Veld and German Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, wants the European Commission to suspend the TFTP agreement pending clarifications into the snooping revelation first made by Globo TV, a Brazilian television network.

“If it is to be consistent, the European Parliament must act on this and press the European Commission to terminate the agreement. Failure to do so would be an act of hypocrisy,” said Albrecht.

Germany has reportedly run checks to determine how the US is operating in Germany for intelligence gathering purposes.

The German government on Monday confirmed that a previously reported operation targeting potential American eavesdropping facilities located on German soil took place at the end of August.

Both a spokesperson for Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Interior Ministry admitted on Monday that a Federal Police helicopter had conducted a low-altitude flyover of the United States Consulate in Frankfurt in order to take high-resolution photographs.

The apparent aim of the mission was to identify suspected listening posts on the roof of the consulate.

And another German source provided their view of the US intelligence approach as well which suggested severe skepticism about the approach.

Comments from Griephan (August-September 2012 which is the German Newsletter for the Defence and Security Industry in Germany has commented on the NSA approach to collecting for collecting’s sake:

“The Americans have left the solid ground of precautionary intelligence for the bogland of paranoia.”

And they go on to quote Paul Krugman to the effect that “those who are drowing in unfiltered information, often cannot see the word full of trees.  In the USA there are too many authorities that are roping in far too much junk data.  All that will lead to is a gigantic misallocation of tight resources.”

And the newsletter adds: “Of course, all of them are still diligently gathering.”